Renewing TSA PreCheck and Global Entry

Nancy and I recently renewed our five-year memberships in the TSA PreCheck and Global Entry programs, because I think we can all agree that navigating airports is a challenge to just about anyone’s serenity. It all adds up to a stressful experience: arranging transportation, arriving early enough (but not too early!), making sure your liquids are properly sized and stored, and having your ID and boarding pass at the ready. Then you immediately begin the scramble of removing said liquids, laptops, phones, belts, shoes, and everything else in your pockets for a precious few moments, only to gather them all up, get them all back where they belong, and move along so the next poor soul can do the same. Even as a frequent traveler, who feels organized and prepared for the security skirmish, I always end up more than just a bit disheveled and disoriented. Truth is, I often start that way, but you get my drift.

So I’m interested in anything that eases that process. Unfortunately the world of private jets, and their nearly non-existent security processes, are far beyond our means. As a fairly frequent flyer, I really like the Global Entry program. For $100 and little bit of your time, Global Entry helps you speed through immigration and customs when re-entering the USA, and includes TSA PreCheck, which helps you speed through TSA security lines at participating US airports.

Initially I found it a bit confusing, but they are in fact two separate but related programs. TSA PreCheck is $85 for five years. But for $100 (an extra $15), you can also get Global Entry. Therefore the only reason to limit yourself to PreCheck is if you are 100% certain you will not leave the country for the five-year duration of your membership. Seems to me that the extra $15 is worth it just in case.

Five years ago, Nancy and I signed up for both programs to see how they worked. With TSA PreCheck, we go to a separate and always much shorter line, and are not required to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts or jackets. And for us that makes a big difference. More than 200 US airports and 73 airlines offer PreCheck and only once that I can remember was PreCheck unavailable. And with Global Entry, many, many times we have sped past long customs lines full of tired and understandably irritated fellow travelers to the automated Global Entry kiosks. Turns out we liked both programs a lot. It was an easy decision to renew for another five years.

Like the original application process, renewal was straightforward. Fill out an online questionnaire and schedule an in-person interview. Both times it was the interview scheduling that posed the greatest logistical hurdle, mostly because our little airport in Medford, Oregon does not do the interviews.

Although there are nearly 400 enrollment centers where TSA interviews take place, sometimes booking a time slot can be a little tough. For me, there were no available times on the west coast that met my travel schedule. Eventually, I was able to arrange a time several months out during a long layover we had coming up at New York’s JFK airport. A customer recently told us that she had to schedule her interview in Portland one year ahead of time. She also noted that she has received a few emails from the TSA encouraging her to “drop in” to a participating airport’s enrollment center for an interview. Nancy and I tried to do just that at SFO five years ago on our first go ‘round, and we were practically laughed out of the office. But perhaps things have changed in the interim.

The renewal process did pose a curious question, as I was required to interview again but Nancy was not. She was issued her Trusted Traveler Global Entry ID renewal straight away after applying online, while I was required to interview to complete the process. Who knows why? Other than my 2015 trip to India, we’d visited all the same countries during our five years in the program. However, upon review, Nancy believes it is possible she omitted Jordan from the “countries visited” on her renewal form. Nevertheless, after all that, my interview occurred almost exactly at the scheduled hour and lasted less than five minutes. A few weeks later, I received my renewed Trusted Traveler Global Entry ID in the mail and I was good to go for another five years.

For us, the $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee is worth it. We average about five round trip flights a year. Over five years that’s 25 trips, and because you go through security both ways, that’s 50 times through security. That’s $2 per TSA encounter. It’s pretty much an official bribe – kind of like slipping someone a couple of bucks to skip to the front of the line. And that’s before factoring in time saved at immigration and customs. I’ll take it.

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